By Major General John Cronin, USMC, Ret., Author of “An Inconvenient War”
Why is it so normal for people to have profound understandings of a principle in one instance, only to have that understanding fade in instances that are eerily similar? Some can identify the symptoms of a sociological problem after a major event draws national attention to an issue. Fewer are they who can apply the lessons learned from these national problems to other areas that don’t necessarily share the exact same characteristics—but are related in important and obvious ways.
Everyone understood that having a police force that was not representative of the population of Ferguson, MO was a bad idea. Yet, in our democratic society, we have allowed our military to become uncharacteristic of the population. Basically, the socio-economic split between those fighting our wars and those avoiding national service has never been greater.
In WWII, probably the last war in which the entire country recognized that everyone had a stake in the outcome, all the population was represented. Looking at the names of people from elite families who sacrificed indicates that the war was a truly national effort. Importantly, everyone across the spectrum of society was in some way involved. The wealthy, with their ability to sway government, were attuned current events with much more interest to determine how their progeny were being used.
Contrast that to today, where only 1 percent of the people—generally the poor—carry this country’s burden. The super-wealthy who no longer have any skin in the game know the deployment of the military doesn’t affect them and therefore don’t exert their power to determine how it is used. In war, a nation’s most important endeavor, an event that should be all consuming, few sacrifice. Sure, many are concerned, but cheerleading doesn’t count.
Carl von Clausewitz, considered the world’s greatest political-military thinker, stated war is national undertaking that should touch everyone. Only in that way will wars be entered into with serious deliberation and pursued intelligently.
Based on that historic principle, let’s take a look at our current military model. Our latest wars were not paid for in real time. Taxing people to pay for the wars would have raised awareness in them, but the intent of fighting wars off the books is to anesthetize the population from taking interest. Having only one percent of the population impacted also allows for lack of public discourse over how our leaders are using or wasting our blood and treasure. The poor are under-represented in our society and don’t have a strong public voice that is heeded, so politicians go merrily along forgetting them and their sacrifices, other than to continually and cynically mention them while campaigning. In all wars money is made, but we have now developed a military-industrial-
The events in Ferguson inform us of the dangers of non-representation of the public by the people who carry guns in the public service, yet we blithely allow this problematic template to be followed in pursuing our nation’s most important undertaking.
About the author
John F. Cronin holds a master’s degree in international relations from Salve Regina University. He served as base commander of Quantico, was chair of the Marine Reserve Policy Board and was a commanding general of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. His new novel “An Inconvenient War,” explores the first days of the American conflict in Afghanistan.